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Nerve-tapping Neckband Allows 'Telepathic' Chat 205

Posted by samzenpus
from the mouth-of-cyber-sauron dept.
ZonkerWilliam writes "Newscientist has an interesting article on tapping the nerve impulses going from the brain to the vocal chords, allowing for 'Voiceless' phone calls. "With careful training a person can send nerve signals to their vocal cords without making a sound. These signals are picked up by the neckband and relayed wirelessly to a computer that converts them into words spoken by a computerized voice." It's not quite telepathy, but it's pretty close."
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Nerve-tapping Neckband Allows 'Telepathic' Chat

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  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:11AM (#22736438) Journal
    Isn't there a reason why DefCon doesn't have wireless mic's at there event?
  • Telepathy (Score:5, Funny)

    by the brown guy (1235418) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:15AM (#22736448) Journal
    " It's not quite telepathy, but it's pretty close." I though telepathy was when you could transmit or interpret one's thoughts. These guys are talking about interpreting what one is saying. I am way baked.
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:17AM (#22736452)
    Speaking without moving your lips is generally ventriloquism, not telepathy.

    Granted, telling off color jokes with disturbing old man/child connotations doesn't sound quite as cool as reading minds and joining the X-Men. Still, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck without moving its bill, it's still a ventriloquist duck and not a telepath.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak@noSPam.yahoo.com> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @03:29AM (#22736712) Homepage Journal
      Still, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck without moving its bill, it's still a ventriloquist duck

      Keith and Orville [thebubbleburst.co.uk] are still touring?

    • Re:Ventriloquism (Score:4, Insightful)

      by thedrx (1139811) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @03:30AM (#22736716)
      Ventriloquism is the ability to 'talk with your stomach'. I never saw any ventriloquist do their stuff over 1000s of miles, either.
    • Re:Ventriloquism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DeadDecoy (877617) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:24AM (#22736904)
      Yes but there's a big difference between ventriloquism and the content in the main post. In ventriloquism you're still vocalizing the words while giving the illusion that you're not. In this case you are not making vocal sounds but rather, sending neuron signals to a computer to do the talking for you. It's a hell of a lot closer to telepathy than you might think.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        Yes but there's a big difference between ventriloquism and the content in the main post. In ventriloquism you're still vocalizing the words while giving the illusion that you're not. In this case you are not making vocal sounds but rather, sending neuron signals to a computer to do the talking for you. It's a hell of a lot closer to telepathy than you might think.

        Like the GP, I don't see assisted wireless ventriloquism as being any closet to telepathy than Hawking's rig is. Easier to use and carry around, certainly, but that's about it. It doesn't read sounds, it's another interface to drive a speech synthesizer. It's interesting because it could be a much more natural one, although the "training required" bit is problematic but we can probably expect that to get better. And that non-invasive hands-free interface can of course potentially be used to drive lots of o

        • by xSauronx (608805)
          couple this with the tech that can send directional sound and you could have some fun freaking people out :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cp.tar (871488)

          It's interesting because it could be a much more natural one, although the "training required" bit is problematic but we can probably expect that to get better.

          As any tool, it needs to be trained with to use properly.

          Most of our computer troubles are PEBKAC, i.e. untrained users.
          "Easy to use" doesn't have to mean (and shouldn't be supposed to mean) "easy to use the very first time you use it with no training whatsoever". That's intuitive.
          Notepad is intuitive; vi is easy to use. Once you learn to use it, of course.

    • by jamesh (87723) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:54AM (#22736996)

      Still, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck without moving its bill, it's still a ventriloquist duck and not a telepath.

      And I for one welcome our non-telepathic ventriloquist duck overlords.
  • Throat mikes? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:20AM (#22736460) Journal
    roughly transcribed by me:

    "One of them, that we're developing is a usage scenario that we call 'the smartest man in the room'. We capture the activity that a person wants to say and translate that into speech and use that speech to query search engines."
    Wouldn't a throat mic be easier to use? No specialized training required?
  • Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:24AM (#22736478) Homepage Journal
    "psychics" and televangelists will find a way to work this into their money making schemes.
    • by Joe Tie. (567096)
      So called psychics are going to look pretty pathetic as well, when anyone can transmit like this with 100% accuracy. Much of the allure of that whole scene is that it's firmly in the real of an unavailable other, and that the illusion of a 1% or so success rate can be spun as impressive. When any teen can get 99% success in transmitting information without speech or writing, there's going to be a lot less people falling for mentalisim disguised as reality.
  • Great technology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bondsbw (888959) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:25AM (#22736480)

    Combine this with text-to-speech and wireless headphones, you have an effective non-vocal (and two-way) communication system that doesn't require the use of the hands or the knowledge of surrounding personnel.

    The military uses, as well as civilian, are probably limitless. Of course, we're now one step closer to making it impossible to detect cheating on tests, and similar scenarios.

    • by sporkme (983186) * on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:47AM (#22736574) Homepage
      Yes, this is absolutely amazing, and that a "backdoor hack" solution to the problem of "telepathic" communication and mobility is so promising is a testament to our ingenuity as a species. Great work! Please, though, let the commercial demand$ for entertainment and convenience devices $ubsidize the need for mobility and communication devices that disabled people need.

      If you RTFA and watch a linked video, you will see a wheelchair controlled by thought. The the current iteration is rough and inaccurate, and the user must undergo training to the device, but I'd hope that the promise of provision and the simplicity of design in form and function will make this a real winner with further development. Reverse it: once the device can be trained to the user, we have a deployable thought-control system that uses our favorite external neural pathway, speech.

      Accolades to the designers... I think we have a real winner here based on the proofs-of-concept, and with further development we will be better off is both convenience and humanitarianism.
      • Yes, this is absolutely amazing, and that a "backdoor hack" solution to the problem of "telepathic" communication
        What, are they communicating via farts?
      • by amplt1337 (707922)
        The the current iteration is rough and inaccurate, and the user must undergo training to the device, but I'd hope that the promise of provision and the simplicity of design in form and function will make this a real winner with further development. Reverse it: once the device can be trained to the user, we have a deployable thought-control system that uses our favorite external neural pathway, speech.

        No matter what your brain is connected to, it takes it some time to figure out how to work it. That's why l
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chrisq (894406)
      "Read my lips, no more taxes Sub-verbal:(I'll just increase the old ones).
    • Of course, we're now one step closer to making it impossible to detect cheating on tests, and similar scenarios.

      While teachers will be unable to detect these silent, unvocalized sounds being transmitted through the air, I'm sure the transmitter collar around their neck MIGHT clue them in that something strange is going on.

      students will try to hide the neck band under their collar, but teachers will change the rules for attending exams so the device wont be so easy to hide.

      outside the exam room, a sign will be posted that reads:

      T-shirts only. No turtlenecks allowed!

      then teachers will wonder why all essay questions no

      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:51AM (#22737878) Homepage Journal

        students will try to hide the neck band under their collar, but teachers will change the rules for attending exams so the device wont be so easy to hide. outside the exam room, a sign will be posted that reads:

        T-shirts only. No turtlenecks allowed!
        Headline from the year 2015: Research finally reveals reason for recent academic success by islamic girls.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837)

      Of course, we're now one step closer to making it impossible to detect cheating on tests, and similar scenarios.

      That just means tests will now have to pass or fail groups of people in a Faraday cage, then jumble the group(s) up for another similar test. Perhaps businesses of the future might like to hire small groups of people that can share knowledge efficiently enough to ace a test...

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:26AM (#22736490) Homepage Journal
    The computerized voice will ruin it.

    Mainly because no one wants to have phonesex with Stephen Hawking.
    "hellll-o, you rrrrrrrrrr-eally ta-urrrrrrning meon rightnow."

    And then as an answer to that, they'll come out with customized "human sounding" voices and you'll be wanting to shoot all your friends who always call using the American idol flavor of the week voice.

    Blind dates will be ruined too... For all you know, that babe-alicious voice on the other end belongs to a 300lb 60 year old with a trechiotomy.
  • Real Telepathy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman @ g m a i l . c om> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:27AM (#22736496) Homepage Journal
    Putting aside the "magic" aspect of telepathy that most SciFi authors seem to strive for, I have often considered how telepathy might look if it were a feature of a real species of creature. What I came up with is surprisingly realistic, though it lacks the charm of SciFi style telepathy.

    The way I see it, telepathy is basically wireless communications. A species that "spoke" telepathically to one another in close proximity could use radio waves to communicate in an omnidirectional fashion. For high enough wavelengths, a nerve center acting as an antenna could be exposed from nearly any location on the body. (Possibly metallic in nature?) By modulating the frequency range used to "speak", a creature could become louder or quieter, effectively maintaining the type of privacy we humans enjoy with a whisper rather than a shout.

    Of course, the disadvantage becomes immediately clear. There's no mind-reading involved. No cool body-takeovers, no telekinesis developing, nothing but a simple method of communication that is alien to us, yet accomplishes approximately the same task as human speech.

    It's fun to think that "telepathy is the next stage of human evolution", but there are no obvious physics to support the SciFi interpretation of telepathy. (Especially when you get into telekinesis, which requires WAY more energy than the human body can produce!) What physics does allow us is slightly more boring, but none the less an interesting concept to explore. :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I liked the comment, but

      Especially when you get into telekinesis, which requires WAY more energy than the human body can produce!

      [citation needed]

      A mother can produce enough force to lift the back end of a car off her kid. Why would you assume that by gaining the magical power of TK, I would somehow only be able to produce less force?
      • I liked the comment, but

        Especially when you get into telekinesis, which requires WAY more energy than the human body can produce!
        [citation needed]

        A mother can produce enough force to lift the back end of a car off her kid
        Oh dear, what happens if the whining children get some of this technology. Now not only are they screaming at mommy for that box of cereal, everyone else at the grocery store will be able to hear it too!
      • by Carthag (643047)
        > A mother can produce enough force to lift the back end of a car off her kid

        Citation needed indeed. Since when was that anything but an urban legend?
        • by Culture20 (968837)
          Did you never see the video of the guy lifting the crashed helicopter off his friend ~10 years ago? Sure, he just lifted half of it, and he was a "big" guy, but he shouldn't have been able to do that.
    • You don't seem to have considered the effects of changing bandwidth in the channel. Speech is a type of brain to brain communication, but because we need to convert the symbols into something that can be transmitted and recognised through sound the bandwidth is quite low. What if you had another type of brain to brain communication that wasn't restricted by the abilities of the vocal cords and the ear? If the bandwidth were higher then we could transmit a more complex set of symbols that allowed richer comm
      • Sir Fred Hoyle (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd (1658)
        As much as I dislike his oil-from-volcanos and continuous-creation ideas, he did come up with some interesting sci-fi, especially in the area you're talking about. One of his stories, "The Black Cloud", hypothesises beings with immense bandwidth between individuals and discusses at length the impact of bandwidth on individualism and communications. It also suggests the impact of very high-bandwidth communication from such an individual to the human mind (the human mind might initially be taken over but woul
    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      Are there any organisms that communicate by radio?

      If not, why not?

      There's certainly animals that communicate by light..

      • "Radio" and light are fundamentally the same, the only difference is their location in the electromagnetic spectrum. More relevant might be "in what range of the electromagnetic spectrum do organisms use for communication (with other organisms)".
    • by jd (1658)
      Since the transceiver would be relatively small in comparison to most parts of the brain, there is no reason to assume only the speech centre would have such a system. Indeed, as the complexity of the brain is a function of the complexity of the interconnects, there would be an advantage in an organism where all parts of the brain were electrically isolated (less risk of seizures going non-local) but totally interconnected (you couldn't have that many interconnects physically), provided there was sufficient
      • By the way, The Tomorrow People distinguishes between telepathy and telekinesis and is generally closer to the concepts described by ESP enthusiasts than, say, The X-Men comics.

        The original or the remake? The remake was somewhat grounded, but telepathy was shown to function over worldwide distances. An unlikely possibility given the difficulties and long wavelengths necessary to send radio signals around the curve of the Earth. The teleportation capability was even more unlikely.

        Now in the classic series, "

    • "Of course, the disadvantage becomes immediately clear. There's no mind-reading involved. No cool body-takeovers, no telekinesis developing, nothing but a simple method of communication that is alien to us, yet accomplishes approximately the same task as human speech."

      Unfortunately I am more interested in mind sharing, the ability to connect and share our images and raw data in our minds eye in another persons mind, even if imperfectly. Manythings can be accomplished once we can actually decode what people
    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      a nerve center acting as an antenna could be exposed from nearly any location on the body. (Possibly metallic in nature?)

      A species capable of radio communication would probably develop tools to enhance their natural transmission and reception capabilities. Something like hand (or tentacle)-held antennae, parabolic dishes, and so forth.

    • "The way I see it, telepathy is basically wireless communications."

      ...you mean like talking?
  • Best Aspect (Score:3, Informative)

    by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:38AM (#22736546)
    Since the device presumably requires contact with a person to use, this should effectively eliminate annoying background noises from public places, busses, etc., and it would also eliminate the echo effect that some headsets have (where you can hear yourself echoed in your own earplug). In fact, using these with normal talking should work just as well so you could reap these benefits without training. Now--if they could make a decent earplug with good volume and sound reproduction, we'd be all set.
  • by BigAssRat (724675) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @02:46AM (#22736570)
    Seems like a pretty cool idea, but how are you supposed to interpret letters that come out the same but are fundamentally the same from the beginning? I would think that from the vocal cord stand point many sounds are almost, if not entirely, identical but the lips and mouth movements vary the pitch. How is this device going to tell the difference in those if it is reading the vocal cords?
  • The system demonstrated at the TI conference can recognise only a limited set of about 150 words and phrases, says Callahan, who likens this to the early days of speech recognition software.
    Oh, i see. So it will take a hundred years to perfect? Can't wait. Really.
  • by Jim Ethanol (613572) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @03:35AM (#22736738) Homepage
    This tech was described in a fair amount of detail in the 1990 book "Earth" [amazon.com] by David Brin.


    Quote from Earth: "She took a subvocal input device from its rack and placed the attached sensors on her throat, jaw, and temples. A faint glitter in the display screens meant the machine was already tracking her eyes, noting by curvature of lens and angle of pupil the exact spot on which she focused at any moment.

    She didn't have to speak aloud, only intend to. The subvocal read nerve signals, letting her enter words by just beginning to will them. It was much faster than any normal speech input device... and more cantankerous as well. Jen adjusted the sensitivity level so it wouldn't pick up each tiny tremor - a growing problem as her once athletic body turned wiry and inexact with age. Still, she vowed to hold onto this rare skill as long as possible."

    Once again Sci Fi pwns reality...

    • by kaos07 (1113443)

      Once again Sci Fi pwns reality...

      Except those are words and this is real...

    • And, OSC's Speaker For The Dead (1986).

      -- John.

      • by Aladrin (926209)
        Thank you. I was trying to remember where I remembered a device like this from and knew it wasn't the other poster's example.
    • This weekend I saw a similar device at CeBit. It allowed to input text into computer using you eyes only. You would look at on-screen keyboard and the letters to witch your eyes are pointed would be typed in. I seemed very Sci-Fi like ;). After my colleague took a photo of the device, we looked at the photo, and saw two infrared windows. One scanned vertically, other horizontally. It seems that it simply triangulated your eye position. So simple, yet brilliant. It makes computer accessible to people with mo
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @03:51AM (#22736792)
    .... is more opertunities for people to talk, because frankly the internet has shown my that people mostly talk shit.
  • Slips of the mind (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nullav (1053766) <moc&liamg,valluN> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:20AM (#22736890)
    Before going near such a device, I want to know how likely I am to slip up and say what I'm thinking instead of just what I want to say. With my actual vocal cords, I still need to open my mouth to stick my foot in it.
    • Well, it requires training, which to me implies it requires an effort to actually say something. So it's not like it reads your mind.
    • by WeeLad (588414)
      With my actual vocal cords, I still need to open my mouth to stick my foot in it.


      Even with the actual work of making sound the old fashioned way, I still manage to say some pretty stupid things, particularly to women. If anything, I need something that will tap into my nervous system and give me a jolt to force a pause for reflection when I'm about to speak.

  • by Sinbios (852437) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:32AM (#22736930) Homepage
    "Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all"?
  • Enders Game (Score:2, Funny)

    by delvsional (745684)
    Jane? Is that you?
    • by lthown (737539)
      exactly. Just finished "Children of the Mind" - when I read the article all I could think of was Ender/Miro/Peter's Jewels
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:06AM (#22737384) Journal
    Walk into high school math class at 9:45, pop quiz says the teacher, reads the questions, pausing for 30 seconds after each one, computer whirring in the corner, at 10:05 the teacher announces "Well, since 6 of you failed today we are going to study xyz"

    Once communication is set to bits and bytes things can go a lot faster. At least in some circumstances. Speed dating might get a whole new power setting from this and some vital sign stats.

    I can see quite a few things changing radically when you don't have to the have the social clutter of one person talking at a time.
    • by jsiren (886858)

      I can see quite a few things changing radically when you don't have to the have the social clutter of one person talking at a time.
      I see you haven't met my mother-in-law.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837)

      ... reads the questions, pausing for 30 seconds after each one, computer whirring in the corner ... Speed dating might get a whole new power setting from this ... I can see quite a few things changing radically when you don't have to the have the social clutter of one person talking at a time.

      That social clutter is crucial to the dating process; unless you're looking for instant-computer-dating with a different input method.

    • Walk into high school math class at 9:45, pop quiz says the teacher, reads the questions, pausing for 30 seconds after each one, computer whirring in the corner, at 10:05 the teacher announces "Well, since 6 of you failed today we are going to study xyz"

      This is already being done in classrooms with clickers [osu.edu].

    • by Taevin (850923) *
      I also wonder how technology like this might change testing procedures in general. Especially as implantable receiving technology, like cochlear implants, becomes more ubiquitous, what's to stop students from cheating on examinations? With this current technology it would be fairly easy to prevent by checking students for transmitting neck bands (or perhaps by using school provided, encrypted neckbands that only communicate with the classroom server). What about with a more future tech though? I can imag
  • Don't see any mention of the obvious military applications.
  • ...our telepathic, nerve-tapping cat overlords !

    Would you like some KumpiKat ?


    Oh.. you meant chat...
  • by kurisuto (165784) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:38AM (#22737482) Homepage
    "Chords" are in music. The structures in the larynx are "cords" as in rope.
    • by Koiu Lpoi (632570)
      According to this guy [oup.com], we find "contemporary writers opting for vocal chords instead of vocal cords 49% of the time". That's pretty big, and it may end up being another accepted spelling.

      Circles [wolfram.com] also have chords.
  • Thank you! (Score:4, Funny)

    by FlopEJoe (784551) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:21AM (#22737696)
    Now, for the love of God, can you stop talking so loud on your cell phone at the airport? Nobody cares about your (probably pretend) business conversation and you don't have to talk so f'n LOUD!
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:09AM (#22738040) Journal
    > It's not quite telepathy, but it's pretty close.

    Jaheezus criminy, must people make /. look so 14 year old golly gee whiz?

    It's absolutely nothing like telepathy. The band is picking up electrical signals in the muscles (called EMG: electromyography) controlling the vocal cords . They can react to reading silently, particularly if you read something "out loud to yourself". If you imagine your own voice while reading something or even imagine speaking, this will happen. It's called subvocalization, and the muscle movements are similar to, but not the same as, speech. That's why the device can differentiate between spoken and "silent" speech. This has been known for decades. Someone has managed to build something that decodes the signals into something like the original words being read or imagined.

    There is no transmission of anything, much less thoughts. Although a novel approach, this is simply another human-machine interface. And one that I'll wager will require fairly extensive training for each individual using it, including training it to read them in different physiological states.

    The article was worth reporting here without the crap in the last sentence of the summary. I sincerely hope that crap was not what got it approved.
  • Curious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by joeyblades (785896)
    First, this is still a long way from telepathy.

    Second, there seems to be a big problem with latency.

    Third, something seems fishy about this demonstration. The timber of your voice, inflection, accent, most of the recognizable aspects involve the movement of air over the vocal chords. Yet somehow, supposedly without air moving across the demonstrators vocal chords, the output sounded just like his speaking voice, including normal dynamic range. That's some computer algorithm! Much, much better than any prior
    • by argent (18001)
      First, he only "said" half a dozen words through the interface, that's hardly enough to identify someone's voice. Second, voice synthesis does fake dynamics. It doesn't get it from anywhere, it makes it up from the sentence structure.

      In fact the first thing he "said" though the interface sounded very much like Apple's voice synth on the Mac.
  • Hawking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:53AM (#22738494)
    I wonder if something like this could help Steve Hawking? His brain is still working but the nerves controlling his body have degenerated.
  • Probably using subvocalization [wikipedia.org]

    quote: "Subvocalization involves actual movements of the tongue and vocal cords that can be interpreted by electromagnetic sensors. Since 1999 NASA, as part of its Extension of the Human Senses program, has been working on a system that can interpret a limited number of English words using nervous signals gathered from sensors placed on the throat's exterior. "

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